With an influx of new managers and a huge amount of money spent, Miguel Delaney says the Premier League title race will be much more competitive than last season, but just as unpredictable…
On his first media appearance in his new job, Pep Guardiola was asked about the new dynamics to the Premier League, the extreme competitiveness that his appointment at Manchester City has played a key role in driving.
“It’s going to be interesting,” the Catalan began, before cycling through some of the coaches, having already praised Jose Mourinho’s edge. “[Antonio] Conte is a master tactician. I think he’s a great signing for Chelsea. It’s going to be very interesting competing against him. Claudio Ranieri too, [Ronald] Koeman as well. It’s hard to say how it’s going to pan out.”
It’s even harder to make a prediction on how it’s all going to finish, perhaps more than ever. There are so many variables, so many different factors. As high-profile as so many of the new managers are, the lists of things they have to adjust to are also so long that their mere presence is no guarantee.
How quickly, for example, will the squads adjust to the ideas of their new bosses? Will it be as speedy as their main competition? Will there be enough in the squads to suit the principles first off, or will it take more than one window for a new manager to really get things as he wants them? And that’s just the start of it.
Last season obviously ended with one of the most unpredictable outcomes in history, but this campaign can be just as unpredictable, if in a completely different way.
As sensationally impressive as Leicester City’s title win was, it’s impossible to deny that the slackness and drop-off in so many big sides was a primary reason for their victory. The Premier League has rarely been so forgiving, as emphasised by the fact that there was no properly experienced challenger pushing Claudio Ranieri’s side. Tottenham Hotspur threatened to put it up to them during one impressive seven-game surge, only for their own inexperience to tell before a late collapse.
This season is at least set to be the total opposite. Far from the wealthier sides drifting away, we’re much more likely to see so many demanding managers pushing them further. Their exactness should mean the Premier League crackles with competitiveness, even if they don’t have their teams exactly as they want them.
It is the existing issues that make things so interesting, though, and make things so unpredictable.
As close to flawless as so many of the managers’ careers are, that is far from the case with their teams.
No-one comes into this fully ready, fully complete as a team, in the way that Chelsea seemed at the start of the 2014-15 season. They all have something to fix, something to solve.
The defending champions have to adjust to the exit of their finest defensive player in N’Golo Kante, as well as the very fact they are the title winners in a very changed league. That is going to mean opposition sides play differently against them, and perhaps won’t play into their counter-attacking approach in the way they did last season. Then there’s the complication of European football for a still-thin squad.
Tottenham Hotspur’s qualification for the Champions League actually means their continental schedule is lessened, and their squad probably is the most stable from last season, if we’re going by the Chelsea 2014 process. They are a young but vibrant team that can still grow so much, who haven’t lost any key players, but have gained a lot of experience. The problem is that experience also came in a more forgiving league, and it’s hard not to think they haven’t quite bolstered enough to mitigate their relative callowness. Like Leicester, there is also the danger of an emotional hangover from last season, especially after the way it ended.
Arsenal – as ever – are almost on the other side of the dynamic that characterises Spurs. Their age profile doesn’t exactly encourage the idea they can grow, and they probably need more signings to add vibrancy. Instead, it may just be more of the same.
Neither Liverpool nor Chelsea have European football, and that freedom could be such a significant advantage in such a congested Premier League, especially for two managers trying to drill their teams into two hugely distinctive ways of playing. There are pluses and minuses here too, though. Jurgen Klopp has had the head start of an extra 10 months in the job, and his knowledge of who suits what in his team has allowed him to make some astute signings, but the eternal wonder remains whether even an alchemist of a coach like him can lift them to higher levels.
Chelsea can bring in those top-end players – as we’ve seen with Kante – but the information from their training ground at the moment is that there is still a considerable gap between Conte’s ideal of how to play and this side’s readiness for it. As of now, not enough of the midfielders are able to play his preferred hard-running game, and he still needs more signings. This season may be too soon.
That leaves the rivalry so much of the football world has been waiting for. Manchester be the obvious focus for this season, to the point it’s already almost getting tiresome, but they also have the most obvious strengths when it comes to a title race.
The two clubs have done the most business, but also got closer to what their famous managers’ ideals would be.
That was especially emphasised by this week’s high-priced,high-profile signings – but both are arguably worth it more than any other. Paul Pogba finally gives Mourinho the midfield power and drive he has lacked for arguably three years, greatly enhancing his stable tactical approach. John Stones offers the ball-playing move-starting centre-half, meanwhile, that is absolutely essential to how Guardiola plays football. The 22-year-old may have conspicuous defensive deficiencies, but that responsibility mostly falls on the defensive midfielder in one of the Catalan’s teams. The two could be perfect for each other
Neither Manchester side is yet perfect, though, and it still feels like they both need to make at least one more signing each. That could then come down to the type of tactical solutions their managers come up with, how they adapt. Guardiola has a much better recent record than Mourinho, and especially against the Portuguese, but has no experience of the league. Mourinho has a lot of knowledge of the league, meanwhile, but also a lot of doubts about his overall record from last season.
As if now, it feels like Manchester City should be slight favourites. There are even more variables than last season, though, that could derail the most deeply-considered predictions.
It’s going to be much more than interesting.
1. Manchester City
2. Manchester United